Are You a Job Jumper?

Fortified by high demand and rising wages, workers employ a new attitude.

This could be the year the American worker flexes some muscle ... and takes some risks.

Armed with the tightest labor market in years and companies' insatiable appetite for skilled workers, more people than ever are changing jobs - for more money, more respect, more flexibility, or just a change of scenery.

"People's tolerance for dissatisfaction is very low," says John Spencer, managing director of Source Services, a recruiting firm in Los Angeles. "A couple of years ago, people would put up with a boss they didn't like and a 2 percent annual pay raise."

Today workers want "instant gratification," he says, and if they don't get, they're ready to move on.

Workers with attitude

But there's more to this new job-jumping mentality than an impetuous attitude. Increasingly, workers are taking charge of their careers. Experts cite:

* Unemployment. It's at the lowest level in about a quarter century.

* Downsizing. It has shredded loyalty between employee and company and shows no sign of slowing.

* Longer hours, less pay: More workers are asking: Do I really like my job?

Robert Coker of Houston, an information-systems analyst who had worked at a large medical clinic, decided recently to change jobs.

He says he grew tired of working for a large organization, and sees a health-care industry under pressure to consolidate. "Many jobs within health care are increasingly at risk because of mergers and acquisitions," he says.

So he's decided to move into health-care consulting and is currently negotiating a position - including a pay raise - at a consulting firm.

"Many of my clients are finding that they are more valued in the marketplace than they were in their former positions," says Terry Devlin, a career counselor at Career Management International in Houston.

He says at least a third of his clients (mostly chemical engineers), pocket pay raises of 15 to 20 percent in their new jobs.

Indeed, money is another factor bringing more people into the job-hunting fold. And right now there is more money chasing fewer candidates.

"What's getting many people off their chairs is that they're hearing about workers getting nice raises," Mr. Spencer says. "A 10 to 15 percent raise is enticing."

But others say that it's more than money.

With workers clocking longer hours at the office, they place greater emphasis on whether the job meets their emotional needs and falls in line with their values.

Fulfillment the goal

"Rarely do I see a client who has profits and gains as a top reason to change jobs," says Mary McIsaac, director of the Center for Life & Work Planning in Encinitas, Calif.

Rather, she says, employees are interested in advancement, creativity, a challenging work environment, and independence.

"The new criterion as we enter the next century is: Is this job fun?" adds Lynn Taylor, director of research at Robert Half International, a job-placement firm based in Menlo Park, Calif.

After a 20-year career as an interior designer, one woman from Orange County is considering a new career - as a schoolteacher.

"I want to feel that I'm contributing something to society," she says, requesting anonymity. "I want the work that I do to be morally fulfilling."

In addition, people are looking beyond the traditional 9-to-5 job and into the new world of self-employment.

"That's the explosion," says Marilyn Moats Kennedy, a career strategist in Wilmette, Ill.

For example, 73 percent of chief financial officers would consider consulting if they lost their jobs, finds a coming survey by RHI Management Resources in Menlo Park, Calif.

Are you ready?

You can always test your resolve to change jobs by asking what other roles you envision for yourself, Ms. Kennedy says. Then write a rsum for those positions.

Time, she says, is never a factor in finding a job.

"To get 10 good leads, seven interviews, and a couple of offers, you need 300 contacts," Kennedy says. "A contact is anyone who returns your phone call."

Still, just because you job hunt doesn't mean you're going to change jobs. About 10 percent of the people who interview and network seriously, Kennedy says, end up staying where they are.

"But don't think you're wasting your time or anyone else's," she says. Shopping around gives you a better feel for the market - which may come in handy if your company downsizes - as well as your own industry. It also gives you new ideas, picked up from competitors.

"At the same time," she adds, "corporate recruiters learn just as much from you."

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